Few cars bring more smiles per mile than convertibles. Summer might still be a ways off, but it’s probably good to start thinking about your ideal beach cruiser before the summer months are upon you.
For the most part, the following cars — all in their base trims — fall below $30,000 (give or take a couple), and many even under breach $25,000 (and some even lower still). While topless cars were once seen as premium members of automotive society, the class is becoming increasingly affordable, allowing more and more people the opportunity to soak up some rays while behind the wheel.
Here are nine convertibles that offer a fine balance of fun, style, performance, and most importantly, value.
1. Smart ForTwo
You can’t get Smart’s fully redesigned ForTwo coupe in cabrio form just yet, but you can score the Smart EV sans roof. If you live in a sunny city and don’t commute far or often, the Smart EV cabrio and its $15,490 base price is certainly an appealing option, provided you don’t have a posse of children to cart around. Then again, if you did, you wouldn’t be looking at convertibles in the first place.
2. Fiat 500C Abarth
Similar in stature to the Smart but with a whole lot more attitude, the Fiat 500 Abarth convertible is the perfect car for singles or couples who enjoy flowing ocean-side highways, sunny days, and a hearty exhaust note. The 160 horsepower served from the Abarth’s 1.6 liter turbo-four is more than enough for the car’s feathery curb weight, and at $26,695, its sporting pretensions won’t break the bank.
3. Buick Cascada
New for 2016, the Buick — née Opel — Cascada is a modern take on the luxury convertible segment. It’s a steeper proposition at $33,065, but its taught chassis and relative agility to the luxury coupe convertibles of decades past make it a solid bet for someone looking for a fun weekend car that comes in at scores less than a Mercedes.
4. Mini Cooper Convertible
Mini Coopers are designed, first and foremost, for fun. They’re not the most practical. They’re not the most agile, nor the fastest, or the most fuel efficient. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a car that puts a smile on your face with as much ease as the Mini, and that’s especially the case for the new Mini convertible. Better yet, the Mini has different modes of roofless-ness: “Most convertibles are binary: open or closed. But our soft-top also has a half-open setting you can adjust while traveling at any speed – like a panoramic sunroof,” the company says. At $25,950, it’d be hard to find more smiles per gallon than the Mini Convertible.
5. Jeep Wrangler Sport
Cruising highways not your thing? Fortunately, you can get a Jeep Wrangler, and once you’ve popped the cover off, you have one of the few — if not only — successful and desirable convertible SUVs. The Sport starts at just $23,895, and although it’ll be pretty spartan inside, you do get an interior that you can wash out with a hose, fording abilities, all-weather prowess, and little more than a roll cage above you. Go the extra mile and take the doors off, too.
6. Volkswagen Beetle
It’s a classic, and time has done nothing but make the Volkswagen better in just about every way. Sure, it had its awkward return-to-retro stage, but the new models a more mature, more aggressive, and more fun. It has similar quirky styling to that of the original that made it such a hit, and costs just $25,490. Opt for the R-Line (pictured) for some extra flair.
7. Mazda MX-5 Miata
When it comes to fine-tuned driving performance, few cars can hold a candle to the delightful and multi-award-winning Mazda MX-5 Miata. The fact that it’s less than $25,000 (though only just) only makes it more impressive as a car. It’s not as powerful as the first- or second-place finishers, but in terms of doing everything well, the Miata would have our vote.
8. Chevrolet Camaro
Still need that aural blast of an American V8 while the top is down? If brash is your thing, the Chevrolet Camaro is tough to beat. The new car is more agile, nimble, fuel efficient, powerful, and full of attitude than the old model; essentially, underpinned by GM’s Alpha platform, it’s better in just about every way.
9. Ford Mustang Convertible
It’s not the cheapest at $29,645, but for that you do get a 300 horsepower, rear-wheel drive cruiser sans roof with a six-speed manual in the middle: You certainly got a lot of car per dollar. Raise your price threshold to about $42,000, however, and you can have the 435 horsepower V8 GT model (pictured), the sound of which might just be worth that $12,000 disparity.